HEALA Board Appoints Nzama Mbalati As Interim CEO

The HEALA Board is pleased to announce the appointment of Mr. Nzama Mbalati as its Interim CEO effective 1st December 2023. Mr Mbalati has been serving with the organisation since 2018 and has been a valuable member of HEALA as the Programmes Manager driving the Programmes Strategy. His professional experience encompasses over 17 years in social justice, health, food and nutrition advocacy.

Nzama is an experienced social justice activist with strengths in community and health systems strengthening, community mobilization, policy advocacy, lobbying, human rights and project management. Having worked in the social justice and public health space for over a decade, he is well-versed on issues of politics, policy, health, human rights, inequality and various other socio-economic issues facing the people of South Africa.

The term of the Interim CEO will be tied to the search of the next CEO. Over the next few months the Board will lead the search for the next CEO of HEALA with a passion for our vision and mission.

During this time of transition, we count on your continued support. Please join us in congratulating Mr Nzama Mbalati in this role and wishing him all the best and continued success.



Delays in increasing the Health Promotion Levy a danger to South Africans

On World Diabetes Day the Healthy Living Alliance, HEALA, embarked on a day of action calling on the government to increase the Health Promotion Levy to the recommended 20% to reduce the over consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s) and decrease the incidence of diabetes amongst South Africans. Concerned South Africans gathered outside the offices of the National Treasury demanding for the increase and calling for an expansion of the levy to include fruit juices.

New research points to an alarming trend of a dramatic increase in the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages (SSB’s) in Sub-Saharan region. The sub-Saharan Africa region had the highest increase in SSB consumption between 2005 and 2018 (2 serving/week increase) while in high income countries consumption decreased by about one serving/week.

Experts from Harvard School of Public Health found that those who drink between 1 and 2 cans of sugar sweetened beverages have a 26% greater chance of developing type two diabetes than those who limit their consumption.

There were huge differences in SSB intake between more vs. less educated adults in sub-Saharan Africa (more educated adults consumed over 4 weekly servings compared to less educated adults).

Taxes on sugary drinks have been shown to work in reducing the consumption of these drinks. A South African studyreleased in 2021, three years after the implementation of the Health Promotion Levy, a levy put in place to support of the Department of Health’s deliverables to decrease diabetes, obesity and other related diseases in South Africa, found that there “SSB taxes were associated with reduced sugary drink intake in a low-income population within a middle-income country”.

However, due to government’s inertia in increasing the tax to the recommended 20%, there is danger of eroding gains made from implementing the tax.

“It’s clear we have reached the cross roads as the country and key policy decision to significantly increase the sugar tax presents a unique opportunity to halt Noncommunicable disease rates that have doubled up in the past decade and raise much needed revenue on the fiscals in the dire strain,”  says Nzama Mbalati, Programmes Manager for HEALA.

Dr Dr Lungi Hobe, Chairperson at Rural Doctors Association of SA, says the cost of diabetes on the individual is high.

“This is a multi-organ disease. So it can affect any organ in someone’s body. The reason for that is that it primarily affects your vessels.  Your vessels, as we all know, exist in every organ of our body. You have veins in your eyes that may be affected by diabetes. Patients can end up with what we call diabetes retinopathy. Some patients end up with complete blindness just from diabetes,” Dr Hobe explains.

“You can also affect a vessel in your heart.  So patients with diabetes have a higher risk of having heart attacks, or what we call cardiac devastation. You can have problems with the vessels in your kidneys.  A lot of patients with diabetes will present with kidney failure or chronic kidney disease,” she adds.

Over 4 Million South Africans are currently living with the life altering illness, almost half of those are undiagnosed. The disease comes at a high personal and public cost. In 2018 experts estimated that the public sector costs of undiagnosed type 2 diabetes where R2,7bn. Considering the undiagnosed the number shoots up to a staggering R21.bn.

The country cannot afford any more delays to the increase of the levy. The costs of government’s inaction and pandering to the sugar industry are too high.

“We believe that government will make the right choice and not listen to the food and beverage industry who want to look out for their own interests,” concludes Mbalati.

OPINION: Let’s be upfront on front-of-pack labelling

By Nzama Mbalati and Zukiswa Zimela

It is really difficult to read food labels. What is trans-fat? How is it different from saturated fat? Why is sodium in milligrams instead of grams? Is it good for me?

That is, of course, if you even see the label on the back of the package.

On April 21, 2023, the National Department of Health published R3337, putting forward a draft regulation to introduce front-of-pack labelling in South Africa.

The draft regulation aims to provide easy-to-understand information on the front of packaged food to help consumers make healthy purchasing decisions.

This type of labelling has been incorporated successfully into several other countries and has been shown to help consumers better understand what they are eating.

The draft regulations also propose introducing restrictions on how foods can be marketed when those foods are deemed unhealthy.

The restrictions specifically aim to restrict techniques used to entice children to purchase and eat unhealthy food – an important measure as children are more vulnerable to persuasive marketing practices.

The draft regulation seems to be a no-brainer: more people will understand what is in food, and children will be less likely to be manipulated into making unhealthy eating decisions.

Especially in light of the worrying revelation early last week by Statistics South Africa that non-communicable diseases – diseases often associated with poor diets – have increased by 58 percent in the last two decades.

However, there has been staunch opposition from the food industry, and several red-herring arguments have been advanced.

We provide the following clarification to help the public understand the new proposed draft regulations.

Food producers will have fair use of their trademarks

The food industry argues that the restriction in the regulations aimed to remove misleading product descriptors “arbitrarily” deprive producers of their intellectual property rights.

First, the Trade Mark Act, the law regulating the protection of trademarks in South Africa, already contains a list of criteria limiting the use of trademarks, including allowing other laws to restrict trademarks or prescribing that marks which are confusing or misleading do not attract legal protection.

Second, food producers register multiple variations of their trademarks and will not face significant trade implications should a variation fall foul of the law.

As an example, we searched the Companies and Intellectual Property online database for trademarks affiliated with a popular soda brand in South Africa and found 60 different trademark results.

The regulations are deemed successful internationally The World Health Organization has called for front-of-pack labelling as a key consumer nutrition literacy intervention to promote healthy diets.

While it is very difficult to show how a policy intervention like a front-of-pack label can improve overall dietary choices, preliminary evidence exists (from Chile and more broadly), and strong evidence shows that the information-imparting objective is effective.

Additionally, the importance of the attached marketing restrictions to protect children has been proven, as studies show a strong link between unhealthy food marketing and childhood obesity.

Consumers should know that food contains ‘artificial sweeteners’

Evidence suggests that providing a warning label on excess sugar can lead consumers to unknowingly substitute sugar-sweetened beverages with alternative sweetened beverages (beverages containing artificial sweeteners).

The safety of artificial sweeteners is still debated.

The warning label is intended to be a consumer information intervention and warning consumers, especially parents, allows consumers to make a decision on appropriate artificial sweetener intake given the risk of allergic reaction, impact on diet for patients with diabetes, potential impact on long term food preferences and emerging evidence on the risk of cancer.

The label will not make it more difficult to import or export food

All countries have variations in food safety and labelling standards and require different procedures to meet local laws. There is a definite trend towards introducing front-of-pack labelling, and food producers seek regulatory harmonisation, endorsing FOPL policies to best achieve this goal.

The food industry will unfairly lose profits

Some food producers argue that they will lose profit because consumers will not buy foods with the warning labels – that is the point!

People will always eat – having people eat healthier foods should encourage food producers to make better alternatives available to the public. Corporate profits can never be more important than public health.

* Nzama Mbalati is the programmes manager at the Healthy Living Alliance (Heala).

* Zukiswa Zimela is the communications manager at Heala.

This oped was first published on IOL on the 9th of November 2023